Monday, September 17, 2012

Crystal Balls

Today, many many political brains with far more wisdom than mine are staring at sets of polling data with all the intensity of a gypsy reading her crystal ball. The ALP folk are vacillating between private exaltation and disbelief, while the Coalition team are clinging to statistics of the past two years, discrediting the wavy images in the glass and looking to the left for someone to blame. Psephologists are trying to decipher two sets of polling data released in the dead of night and find something meaningful in it.

The answers is seems,are the same. Labor is gaining momentum, the Coalition is losing ground, but if an election was held last weekend, Tony Abbot would be Prime Minister…and many Australian voters would be unhappy about that.

The Polls – Newspoll and Nielsen – are shockers for Mr Abbott. According to Nielsen, Ms Gillard is starting to edge away in the Preferred PM stakes, as well as having a higher approval score and lower disapproval score. The Better PM measure, according to Newpoll, has Gillard jumping 7 points and Abbott falling 6 points in the last month.

But does it mean anything?

Previous Newspolls are showing a 2PP trend, with the ALP showing a slow, consistent climb. In the two years since the last election, the numbers have been bouncing around a fair bit, but the Coalition has been ahead for most of that time. I’m comfortable calling this steady climb a trend.

Bear in mind that there is still a deep dissatisfaction with both federal leaders, and close to one quarter of voters would shun the two major parties, according to Nielsen…which begs the question of whether a 2PP measure is even relevant anymore.

The psephologists are also stirring the leadership pots by predicting how the results might look if Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, opposing Tony Abbott – and Labor would win, although Mr Rudd isn’t as popular as he used to be. Then switcheroo Malcolm Turnbull for Tony Abbott, and the pendulum swings back the other way.

But according to Newspoll, and assuming that Nielsen keeps trending the way it is, in another few months, we’ll be in the same place we were in August 2010, when we last tried to elect a federal government. A lot of polling distance has been covered in that time, but just how much has changed?

Move the statistics to one side, and rather a lot has been achieved:

Australia now has a Carbon Tax, and a Mining Tax, a new health system with a 50% increase to hospital funding, a new dental health scheme, a single national school curriculum, the National Broadband Network is rolling out, an increase in trades training, and in training places, and we almost have an National Disability Insurance Scheme. Oh, and Australia survived the Global Financial Crisis better than any other developed economy.

Our Government has also made an absolute hash of our approach to asylum seekers, has ignored one of our own citizens, Julian Assange, has failed to broker an acceptable deal to preserve the Murray Basin and has failed to act on Same Sex Marriage and Poker Machine Reform. It’s endured the Peter Slipper and Craig Thompson fiascos, and maintained the support of Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor, Adam Bandt and occasionally, Andrew Wilkie.

The polls might be close to our starting point two years ago, but Australia is looking very different.

I’m sure that right now, the ALP strategists (formerly faceless) are thanking Campbell Newman, Barry O’Farrell and Ted Bailleau for being so united in their mission to annihilate the Public Sectors in their respective states. There’s been talk of the Newman factor, but the three Eastern premiers together are far more effective at demonstrating current Coalition/LNP policy.

The fact that Whyalla has not fallen victim to a Carbon Tax Armageddon might also be a factor in lightening the ALP burden. Tony Abbott’s current problems with his past, and his dreadful performance on 7:30 a couple of weeks ago will be boosting the ALP’s stocks as well.

I can see the next six months’ worth of polling continuing to close the gap, although it won’t always be steady. After that, it’s anyone’s game. Mr Rudd will probably become less of a factor while Mr Turnbull, who has been biding his time, raises the roof.

Bring it on.

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